Predicting the Future MIT Grads and Profs Helped Invent

July 19, 2021

Good news Monday!

MIT, the outfit that found Jeffrey Epstein—a wonderful human and inspiration to students and scholars, shares its brilliant insights into the future of humankind. Motherboard reports, “MIT Predicted in 1972 that Society Will Collapse This Century. New Research Shows We’re on Schedule.” Oh goodie. Reporter Nafeez Ahmed begins with a little background:

“In 1972, a team of MIT scientists got together to study the risks of civilizational collapse. Their system dynamics model published by the Club of Rome identified impending ‘limits to growth’ (LtG) that meant industrial civilization was on track to collapse sometime within the 21st century, due to overexploitation of planetary resources. The controversial MIT analysis generated heated debate, and was widely derided at the time by pundits who misrepresented its findings and methods. … The [new] study was published in the Yale Journal of Industrial Ecology in November 2020 and is available on the KPMG website. It concludes that the current business-as-usual trajectory of global civilization is heading toward the terminal decline of economic growth within the coming decade—and at worst, could trigger societal collapse by around 2040.”

The study’s author, Gaya Herrington, serves as Sustainability and Dynamic System Analysis Lead at accounting giant KPMG but makes clear she pursued this on her own as part of her Harvard University Masters thesis. The study examines data across 10 key variables: population, fertility rates, mortality rates, industrial output, food production, services, non-renewable resources, persistent pollution, human welfare, and ecological footprint. Herrington found recent data aligns most closely with two scenarios she calls “business-as-usual” and “comprehensive technology.” The most desirable outcome, “stabilized world,” is unfortunately the least likely. See the article for its explanation of each of these, including the related graphs.

The upshot: If we keep doing what we have been doing, we are in for dire food shortages, drastically reduced standards of living, and more chaos by 2040. There is hope, however, if we take drastic action within the next decade. Take one look at today’s Congress and assess the likelihood of that. Ahmed concludes:

“The best available data suggests that what we decide over the next 10 years will determine the long-term fate of human civilization. Although the odds are on a knife-edge, Herrington pointed to a ‘rapid rise’ in environmental, social and good governance priorities as a basis for optimism, signaling the change in thinking taking place in both governments and businesses. She told me that perhaps the most important implication of her research is that it’s not too late to create a truly sustainable civilization that works for all.”

Ah, optimism. Let us enjoy a sliver of it while we can.

Cynthia Murrell, July 19, 2021

Another Stanford University Insight: Captain Obvious Himself Knocked Out

November 27, 2020

I read “Researchers Link Poor Memory to Attention Lapses and Media Multitasking.” What was I doing before I read this article. Oh, right. I was watching TV, surfing the Tweeter, having a bagel, pumping my legs on an under my desk exercycle, and talking on a landline phone. Imagine, a landline.

The article which I had to reread multiple times because, well, I just don’t remember why, states:

A new study reveals a correlation between multimedia multitasking, memory loss, and difficulties in maintaining attention.

Well, there’s an insight. What? Multi-tasking does not work so well? Who knew?

The write up clarifies:

Differences in people’s ability to sustain attention were also measured by studying how well subjects were able to identify a gradual change in an image, while media multitasking was assessed by having individuals report how well they could engage with multiple media sources, like texting and watching television, within a given hour. The scientists then compared memory performance between individuals and found that those with lower sustained attention ability and heavier media multitaskers both performed worse on memory tasks.

Wow. Concentration may be an indicator of a person who is not dumb enough to watch TikTok video gems while driving a smart auto to a Covid testing facility and listening to a podcast about how wonderfully intelligent Vox real news people are.

There’s good news from the Stanford experts; for example:

“We have an opportunity now,” Wagner [one of Captain Obvious’ detractors] said, “to explore and understand how interactions between the brain’s networks that support attention, the use of goals and memory relate to individual differences in memory in older adults both independent of, and in relation to, Alzheimer’s disease.”

What was I doing? I forget.

Stephen E Arnold, November 27, 2020

Confidence in US Education: 46 Companies Have Doubts

November 3, 2020

I read “Top 48 US Companies Files Legal Challenge to Block H-1B Visa Changes.” The write up states:

Nearly 46 leading US companies and business organizations, including tech giants Apple, Google, Twitter and Facebook, representing and working with key sectors of the US economy, have filed an amicus brief that supports a legal challenge to block upcoming rule changes to H-1B visa eligibility.

Another interesting factoid:

The companies said that the new DHS rules will dramatically reduce US businesses’ ability to hire these skilled foreign workers—one senior DHS official estimated that they will render ineligible more than one-third of petitions for H-1B visas.

What does this suggest about the flow of talent from the US education system? How are those online classes working out?

Stephen E Arnold, November 3, 2020

The Online Cohorts: A Potential Blind Sport

April 15, 2020

In a conversation last week, a teacher told me, “We are not prepared to teach classes online.” I sympathized. What appears trivial to a person who routinely uses a range of technology, a person accustomed to automatic teller machines, a mobile phone, and an Alexa device may be befuddled. Add to the sense of having to learn about procedures, there is the challenge of adopting in person skills to instructing students via a different method; for example, Google Hangouts, Zoom, and other video conferencing services. How is that shift going? There are anecdotal reports that the shift is not going smoothly.

That’s understandable. More data will become available as researchers and hopefully some teachers report the efficacy of the great shift from a high touch classroom to a no touch digital setting.

I noted “Students Often Do Not Question Online Information.” The article provides a summary of research that suggests:

students struggle to critically assess information from the Internet and are often influenced by unreliable sources.

Again, understandable.

The article points out a related issue:

“Having a critical attitude alone is not enough. Instead, Internet users need skills that enable them to distinguish reliable from incorrect and manipulative information. It is therefore particularly important for students to question and critically examine online information so they can build their own knowledge and expertise on reliable information,” stated Zlatkin-Troitschanskaia. [Professor Olga Zlatkin-Troitschanskaia from JGU. The study was carried out as part of the Rhine-Main Universities (RMU) alliance.]

Online is a catalyst. The original compound is traditional classroom teaching methodologies. The new element is online. The result appears to raise the possibility of a loss of certain thinking skills.

Net net: A long period of adaptation may be ahead. The problem of humans who cannot do math or think in a manner that allows certain statements to be classified as bunk and others as not bunk is likely to have a number of downstream consequences.

In short, certain types of thinking and critical analysis may become quite rare. Informed decisions may not be helpful if the information upon which a choice is based operates from a different type of fact base.

Maybe not so good?

Stephen E Arnold, April 15, 2020

Google Told to Rein in Profits

December 5, 2017

Google makes a lot of money with their advertising algorithms.  Every quarter their profit looms higher and higher, but the San Francisco Gate reports that might change in the article, “Google Is Flying High, But Regulatory Threats Loom.”  Google and Facebook are being told they need to hold back their hyper efficient advertising machines.  Why?  Possible Russian interference in the 2016 elections and the widespread dissemination of fake news.

New regulations would require Google and Facebook to add more human oversight into their algorithms.  Congress already has a new bill on the floor with new regulations for online political ads to allow more transparency.  Social media sites like Twitter and Facebook already making changes, but Google has not done anything and will not get a free pass.

It’s hard to know whether Congress or regulators will actually step up and regulate the company, but there seems to be a newfound willingness to consider such action,’ says Daniel Stevens, executive director of the Campaign for Accountability, a nonprofit watchdog that tracks Google spending on lobbyists and academics. ‘Google, like every other industry, should not be left to its own devices.’

Google has remained mostly silent, but has made a statement that they will increase “efforts to improve transparency, enhance disclosures, and reduce foreign abuse.”  Google is out for profit like any other company in the world.  The question is if they have the conscience to comply or will find a way around it.

Whitney Grace, December 5, 2017

 

Semantic Scholar Expanding with Biomedical Lit

November 29, 2017

Academic publishing is the black hole of the publishing world.  While it is a prestigious honor to have your work published by a scholar press or journal, it will not have a high circulation.  One reason that academic material is blocked behind expensive paywalls and another is that papers are not indexed well.  Tech Crunch has some good news for researchers: “Allen institute For AI’s Semantic Scholar Adds Biomedical Papers To Its AI-Sorted Corpus.”

The Allen Institute for AI started the Semantic Scholar is an effort to index scientific literature with NLP and other AI algorithms.  Semantic Scholar will now include biomedical texts in the index.  There is way too much content available for individuals to read and create indices.  AI helps catalog and create keywords for papers by scanning an entire text, pulling key themes, and adding it to the right topic.

There’s so much literature being published now, and it stretches back so far, that it’s practically impossible for a single researcher or even a team to adequately review it. What if a paper from six years ago happened to note a slight effect of a drug byproduct on norepinephrine production, but it wasn’t a main finding, or was in a journal from a different discipline?

Scientific studies are being called into question, especially when the tests are funded by corporate entities.  It is important to verify truth from false information as we consume more and more each day.  Tools like Semantic Scholar are key to uncovering the truth.  It is too bad it does not receive more attention.

Whitney Grace, November 29, 2017

 

Dark Web Predator Awaits Sentencing

November 15, 2017

Here we have one of the darker corners of the Dark Web. A brief but disturbing article at the UK’s Birmingham Mail reports, “Birmingham University Academic Dr Matthew Falder Led Horrific Dark Web Double Life as ‘666devil’.” The 28-year-old academic in question has pled guilty to 137 charges, most if not all, it seems, of vile crimes against children. Reporter James Cartledge writes:

Since 2010, the geophysicist, who worked at Birmingham University till September, had degraded and humiliated more than 50 victims online using the names ‘666devil’ and ‘evilmind’. … He admitted the offences at a hearing at Birmingham Crown Court on Monday. He was arrested on June 21 this year and has been held in custody since that date. Falder, of Edgbaston, Birmingham, posed as a woman on sites such as Gumtree to trick his victims into sending him naked or partially-clothed images of themselves. The disgraced geophysicist then threatened to expose his victims if they did not send severe and depraved abuse images of themselves. He then distributed the images.

It gets worse from there. We’re told this is the first time the UK’s National Crime Agency had delved into the Dark Web’s hidden forums that share and discuss such “dark” material. Falder is scheduled to be sentenced on December 7 and shall remain in custody in the meantime.

Cynthia Murrell, November 15, 2017

Even Genius Kids Need Teachers

November 14, 2017

Geniuses are supposed to have the innate ability to quickly learn and apply information without being taught.  It is almost like magic what they can do, but even with their awe-inspiring intellects, geniuses need their own mentors.  The Independent wrote about a study that proved geniuses need guidance, “Psychologists Studies 5000 Genius Kids For 45 Years-Here Are Their 6 Takeaways.”

Started in 1971, the “Study of Mathematically Precocious Youth” (SMPY) followed 5000 American children with intelligence measured in the 0.01%, 0.1%, and 1% of all students.  The study’s facilitators learned that the children led extraordinary lives that ranged from them being patent holders, they earned doctorates or graduate degrees, and are in the top 5% of income earners.  One problem is that these children were often ignored by their teachers because they were already meeting their potential.  Teachers had to spend more time helping lower students achieve their academic requirements.

They also learned that skipping a grade can help and intelligence is varied.  The latter means that intelligence cannot be prepackaged, one size fits all, instead, it comes in different forms.  Also despite how much they are loathed, standardized tests do have some predictive ability to measure genius kids success in life.  Perhaps the most interesting factoid is something that is taught in business classes, mindfulness, and other life coaching strategies:

The psychologist Carol Dweck has found that successful people tend to keep what’s known as a “growth mindset” as opposed to a “fixed mindset.” They view themselves as fluid, changing beings that can adapt and grow — they are not static.

 

SMPY agrees with that assessment, but it also has found that the earliest signs of cognitive ability in kids can predict how well they’ll do later in life, ignoring all the practice that may or may not come in between.

Genius kids are valuable as individuals and their intellect can help the world, but the bigger problem is trying to find ways to help them achieve when the rest of the world is trying to catch up.

Whitney Grace, November 14, 2017

Mobile Technology Dad Still Waiting for Dream to Become Reality

November 2, 2017

Steve Jobs and Bill Gates are the poster children for modern technology, but more people helped bring about the revolution.  One such person is Alan Kay, often referred to as the father of mobile computing.  He directed a research team at Xerox PARC, developed the SmallTalk programming language, and also worked the Xerox Alto personal computer.  He also advocated that computers could be used as tools for creativity and learning.  Kay sat down for an interview with Fast Company, printed in the article, “The Father Of Mobile Computing Is Not Impressed.”

Kay began the interview that Jobs was not the kind of person to befriend and animation studio Pixar was the most honest money Jobs made.  He mentioned that Jobs was also trying to talk the government into giving tax breaks for companies that put computers in schools.  Back in the twentieth century, Kay designed a mobile device that was the predecessor to a tablet.  Called the Dynabook, it had physical buttons implanted in it and was never released for the consumer market.  However, the Dynabook exists in some form today as the iPad.  Kay complained that there is not a place to put a pen on the iPad, however.

After a brief explanation about human society and the desire to learn, he begins to talk about his idea of mobile computing.  One of the things he liked about the earliest Mac computers was that they allowed people to undo their learning and explore how to use a computer, but the iPhone is stupid:

So, this is like less than what people got with Mac in 1984. Mac had a really good undo. It allowed you to explore things. Mac had multitasking. The iPhone is basically giving one little keyhole and if you do something wrong, you actually go back out and start the app over again.

 

Think about this. How stupid is this? It’s about as stupid as you can get. But how successful is the iPhone? It’s about as successful as you can get, so that matches you up with something that is the logical equivalent of television in our time.

Kay spends most of the interview speaking about how people learn, how education has changed, and some philosophical stuff.  It is more about how to improve ourselves than an interview about mobile computing.

Whitney Grace, November 2, 2017

Google Supports Outraged Scholars

October 2, 2017

Google has taken issue with a recent list from the Campaign for Accountability (CfA), TechCrunch reports in, “Google Responds to Academic Funding Controversy—with a GIF.” Writer Frederic Lardinois reports that the CfA recently released a list of policy experts and academics who, they say, had received Googley dollars last year. The only problem—many who found themselves on the list dispute their inclusion, saying they had not received any funding from Google or, if they had, it was unrelated to the work the CfA specified. Google issued a response, supporting the protesting experts and academics as well as defending its support of researchers in general. The company also struck back; the article explains:

And in a direct attack on CfA, Google also notes that while the group advocates for transparency, its own corporate funders remain in the shadows. The only backer we know of is Oracle, which is obviously competing with Google in many areas. The group has also recently taken on SolarCity/Tesla. In its blog post, Google also argues that ‘AT&T, the MPAA, ICOMP, FairSearch and dozens more’ fund similar campaigns.

Google later created a GIF in response to requests for elaboration. It shares a series of tweets from some of the affected scholars, in which they detail just where the CfA went wrong in each of their cases. Lardinois continues:

It’s not often that a company like Google makes its own GIF in response to a request for comment, but I gather this goes to show that Google wants to move on from this discussion and let the academics speak for themselves. While the CfA’s methods are less than ideal, there are legitimate questions about how even small amounts of funding can influence research.

So far, Lardinois notes, public discussion on how funding can influence research have centered around pharmaceuticals. He projects it will soon grow, however, to include policy research as tech companies ramp up their funding programs

Cynthia Murrell, October 2, 2017

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